Healers of Soul Injury: A Clinician’s Call to Serving Military Families

My professor set me up for success in the clinical world when I was tasked read Unspeakable Truths and Happy Endings: Human Cruelty and the New Trauma Therapy, by Rebecca Coffey.  The purpose, was to prepare us as students to sit in the pocket of the client’s story- no matter how tragic or graphic.  It was a challenging task as the book was filled with gruesome stories, including one of a veteran, introducing me to the impact of combat trauma.  It was a wake-up call to the high honor and power of listening to someone’s story, especially those of military families.

In addition to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, many of us have likely seen some form of soul injury in our office. The term “moral injury” has gained attention over the last decade as an additional area of focus in the treatment of veterans.  Coined by Jonathan Shay, but further defined by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, moral injury refers to an “act of transgression, which shatters moral and ethical expectations.”[i]  The act of “transgression” being the center and key to whether or not there has been a personal value or moral injured. 

But I have wrestled lately with something else going on in my clients, something in addition to moral injury.  I have seen it occur in my life as a military spouse as well as in my husband’s experience as a chaplain, one who is not regulated to carry a weapon or engage in battle. This particular type of soul injury involves a shattering of values or beliefs not just due to actions in combat, but when one experiences the deep hurt and disappointment of those they are supposed to trust.  As it relates to moral injury, this can definitely occur when someone in authority commands them to perform an action that goes against their values, but it doesn’t account for the soul injury that occurs when they come home and reintegrate into society. 

Joshua Mantz, a service member who tells his vulnerable story in his TED talk “Overcoming Moral Injuries” states that veterans who struggle with moral injury do so because they have experienced the “worst of what humanity can do”.[ii]  Many that struggle with suicide are often those who painfully witness the “worst of humanity” in their own actions, breaking a sort of self-trust.  Witnessing the atrocities of war, evil, death, and destruction breaks the long held hope that good triumphs evil.  Instead, around any corner there-after lies the danger of being surprised by the wounding or disappointment in life and humanity.

Chaplain (Colonel) Timothy Mallard also experienced this “missing piece” and defined it as “spiritual injury”, the “intra and inter-personal damage to souls brought on by significant trauma, including the rupture to foundational religious values, beliefs, and attitudes, the inability to healthfully participate in an immanent human faith community, and the temporary or permanent loss of a transcendent relationship to God (manifested particularly in questions about forgiveness, doubt, truth, meaning, and hope).”[iii]  Different, although connected to moral injury, spiritual injury speaks of the impact trauma has on one’s relationship with family, community, and God. Left untreated, these two injuries to the soul have devastating effects on a person and family.  According to Mallard, veterans returning home find themselves not only reintegrating into the family, but attempting to assimilate back into community. These two, then, become the testing ground for whether or not the veteran will attempt reintegration in his or her spiritual life.

As a mental health clinician and military spouse, I contend that we must accept the impact our personal response has in either validating or disproving the new construct that arrests the injured soul, or as Mallard calls it “spiritual injury”. If it is true that we are the testing ground or gate-keepers in restoring the hope that humanity is still good, we have a high calling indeed.  When they enter our office, these families bring with them the hope, albeit a fading spark, that good can win.  There, in the vulnerable, exposed and naked attempt to tell their story, as Rebecca Coffey taught me, is our chance.  However, if they instead receive apathy or worse- a cold, sterile clinical approach, we risk a crisis of the moral human experience leading many to the divorce of humanity all together.

 Far too often in my attempts to advocate mental health within the military community, I hear accounts of re-injury in the clinical office.  I am weary of stories, even if they are in the minority, of clinicians falling asleep in session, not understanding the culture, or worse treating the diagnosis rather than the person. If we aim to be part of breaking the stigma that mental health truly makes a difference, then cultural competency must extend past traditional cultural awareness and count the military culture as worth our time to study.

After doing life with the military community, there are some key points that are not commonly addressed, but are crucial to treating the expanding needs of military families.  While the basics of understanding acronyms and branch specifics goes a long way, it will not go so far as our response to their moral and spiritual injury.

1. The military is an elite space and access is earned.

Being invited into this community is not something to take lightly.  It is a reverent “club” where trauma is both a stigma and an intense connective agent. Wearing the uniform alone does not earn you access.  Deployment does not even deem you worthy.  It is a raw, gritty, and real group of individuals and family members that have learned to push through adversity and personal pain.  Both service members and spouses have been pushed to their limits and back again and although they present a tough exterior, it is quite vulnerable.  Gaining rapport with this community requires that you also are vulnerable and real, and that you can meet them there quickly.  Although this may not require full transparency, they need to know that you are authentic as well. 

Respect is earned by showing you can push through, are loyal, and will give your all when it matters most. Military life requires us to build relationships quickly if we want community, but that means we also assess others quickly.  We never know when our life will change and call us away. There is no time for 10 sessions of “getting to know each other” so they will determine within the first session whether you are safe, authentic, and whether you can be trusted with their most sacred stories.

2.  You will never reach a place where real healing can happen without regarding the sacred spaces as sacred.

When Matt returned from his first deployment, I knew he was different.  We both were.  He had experienced death and grief on a level I had not.  He had lost friends, memorialized his soldiers, and counseled his brothers through the darkest moments of their life.  I had experienced my own version of survival parenting on my own, overcoming loneliness, and navigating the life on my own.  Matt came home with a “carpe diem” mentality- of live life to the fullest while I had wrestled life to the ground into full submission.  In our reintegration, we clashed in our efforts to feel simultaneously understood and seen.  Both experiences were life changing, both had experienced moral and/or spiritual injuries now a part of our narrative. We discovered that our response to each other’s injury could either heal or further injure the other. 

As I reflected on how memories of joy and trauma are secured by the sensory parts of the brain, my husband and I both experience flashbacks of our separate experiences in a sensory way.  When my husband looks off into the distance remembering his friend’s body, I know his past is invading his present.  In similar ways, recounting intense community with fellow spouses during a difficult deployment brings up sensory memories for me.  In our attempt to find a new way to communicate, we coined the phrase “Sacred Spaces”.  Sacred Spaces are multi-sensory, life-changing events set apart from the normal day to day experiences that now take up significant space in our story, individually and together.  It has become a way for us to say, “I’ve been through something so big that I’m different because of it.  I can’t change that, but I need you to tread lightly when I talk about it.  You can’t fix it, and we definitely can’t ignore it.”[iv] In essence, we became healing agents in our response to each other’s most sacred moments by treating them as sacred.

Most military members will never have the right verbiage to describe their most significant moments as a Sacred Space but will viscerally experience it as sacred.  Much like walking into a cathedral, so is the honor of listening to the vulnerable stories of military families.  In order to succeed, we must learn how to not only walk into a sacred space, but through it.  In a culture where a service member must become a god whose actions decide on the life or death of another, it requires another deity that can give them permission to be human again.   Your capacity to sit with them in their pain, courage, grief, insecurity, ego, and humility all at once gives them that permission.  This very moment between the two of you will then become its own Sacred Space where acceptance, forgiveness, and mercy is a glimpse into the deeper question of whether God will respond the same. You then symbolize the community’s role in reintegrating the veteran while also modeling that for the family member.  It is one of the most sacred things we can do for another.

3.  Evidence based is effective, but it is your human connection that will change a life. 

My favorite part of Mantz’s talk (spoiler alert) was that he, at his lowest point considering suicide, discovered a clinician who showed up.  This act of humanity changed the trajectory of his life by modeling that good existed and was in direct contrast to the evil he saw on the battle field.  That moment revealed that the only way to heal the visceral soul tear from experiencing the worst of humanity, is to prove that humanity’s best is far more powerful.  If we wish to model the best of what humanity has to offer to the military community, it must include the human connection. 

Evidence based modalities continue to provide some of the best outcomes I have seen to reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress, however, our delivery and approach must equally include human warmth.  Mantz states that it takes moral courage to ‘“dive deep into the emotional state that they are in, truly and inherently understand what they are going through, walk through the depths of hell with them, grab them by the hand and say ‘You are not alone anymore- we are going to get you out of this’.”[v]

Too often, military families and veterans seek counseling only to be met with an immediate diagnosis or treatment plan.  These play a necessary role in progress, but the military community is too raw to tolerate the cold approach of academic treatment plans that lack the human dimension. Death is cold, and so is evil.  Our approach must show a direct contrast to that experience.  When avoidance is already high, many military families fear therapy will feel transactional and assume it will be one more place they feel misunderstood.

4.  You will miss the mark if you forget the family.  Everyone forgets the family.

The military spouse community holds a secret, even amongst themselves, that they have accepted a life of being unseen.  While America is making huge progress in tending to the challenges of careers and deployment readiness, military spouses have an unspoken commitment to put the military and service member first.  The cost to themselves, is an incredible amount of repression and anger that subconsciously destroys families.  It is undeniable to them that their service member’s visible and invisible wounds of war pale in comparison to their own personal suffering.  The comparison is quite real within military marriages with the spouse usually accepting the submissive role as secondary in her desire to see her spouse well and whole from these injuries.  While spouses may present themselves as strong and willing to go “second”, clinicians must not play in to the pattern that exists.

Military spouses are often unaware of the underlying resentment that exists, much less what needs to change in order to be authentic within counseling or their marriage.  It is their patriotic duty to serve their serving spouse rather than take care of self.  In my own life, I saw this to be true when I had the opportunity to travel overseas with the Secretary of Defense and visit deployment conditions.  In my visit to warring countries I never thought I would see, I came face-to-face with my own reflection.  I saw my own resentment of the difficulty that war brought into my life and marriage. 

Over the mountains of Afghanistan, I ultimately came to terms with my role as a military spouse  and wife.  I had the greatest healing power of all to show my husband that good could triumph evil. I, even in my imperfection, could be the most consistent experience of the best of what humanity could offer. My ability to embrace the messiness that military life had handed us, could rebalance the scales.  In order for me to do this though, I had to first process through the moral and spiritual injury I had also experienced, the death of my expectations of an easier life. (For more, read my story, Sacred Spaces: My Journey to the Heart of Military Marriage).

In Coffey’s book, she quotes Bessel Van der Kolk, one of the leading researchers of post-traumatic stress.  He tells a survivor, “Pay more attention to the therapist’s intellectual and emotional equipment than theoretical system… Pay attention to whether the therapist really wants to hear the troubles you have to tell. Ask yourself, ‘Do I feel validated?  Is the therapist really listening to my story?’”[vi]  Listening to someone’s story, not just for the story itself, but because someone has a story to tell is one of the highest honors of being a clinician.  As you seek to serve the military community and become culturally competent, think back to what ignited the spark within you to become a healer. There is an entire community waiting for someone to truly listen.


[i] Shira Maguen and Brett Litz, “Moral Injury in the Context of War,” U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs National Center for PTSD, accessed online at http:www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/co-occurring/moral_injury_at_war.asp on March 3, 2017

[ii] Joshua Mantz, “Overcoming Moral Injuries”, Tedx Santo Domingo, accessed online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORBf73HiJns, (2016)

[iii] Timothy Mallard, “Spiritual Injury: Toward a Definition, Criteria, and Treatment Response for Wounded Warriors and Families, “ D.D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center Department of Behavioral Health and U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence Unit Ministry Team Interdisciplinary Moral and Spiritual Injury Symposium, Fort Gordon, GA (26 May 2016)

[iv] Weathers, Corie, Sacred Spaces: My Journey to the Heart of Military Marriage (St. Paul, MN: Elva Resa Publishers, 2016), 18.

[v]Mantz (2016).

[vi] Coffey, Rebecca. Unspeakable Truths and Happy Endings: Human Cruelty and the New Trauma Therapy. (Baltimore, MD: Sidran Institute Press, 1998) 85.

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An interview with Patty Barron, our Military Spouse Mom

Being a military family is tough.  There are not only significant challenges, but endless resources out there to help you.  How do you know who to go to?  Who is standing up for the needs we have?  Is anyone in the upper echelons paying attention?  

If you are an ARMY family, then I have a special treat for you.  You may not be aware that there is an Assocation just for the Army that is looking into all of this and more.  AUSA (The Association of the United States Army) is an association that is lobbying for issues that are important to your family, talking to experts who know the research on what our families need, as well as listening to our needs and trying to address them on a national level and a local level.  That may sound like a bunch of stuff that is not in your lane, but the gist of it is- someone cares about you and your family, and wants you to succeed.  Even more than that

Someone is listening...

Today, I have a beautiful interview with Patty Barron, the Family Readiness Director of AUSA.  She is our mother hen in the military spouse world.  She has been to almost every event I have ever been to- listening to what we are saying and working hard to find answers. In this interview, Patty talks about the AUSA Annual Conference and how you can participate as a family as well as what the  AUSA Family Readiness side of things has for you.  

Watch here:

Patty talks about:

Family Readiness Spouse Forums:  Webinars on topics that families have requested help on that you can participate in live or watch them at your convenience.

Learning & Leaning In: Military Spouse Led Non Profits Supporting One Anotherhttps://www.ausa.org/news/live-stream-military-spouse-led-nonprofits-supporting-one-another

Update on Military Kids: Annual AUSA Family Forum: https://www.ausa.org/events/ausa-annual-meeting-exposition/sessions/mff1-update-military-kids-how-are-they-doing-what-do

PREPARING FOR A LIFE IN OR OUTSIDE THE ARMY THROUGH FINANCIAL READINESS, MILITARY SPOUSE EMPLOYMENT AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP: https://www.ausa.org/events/ausa-annual-meeting-exposition/sessions/mffii-preparing-life-or-outside-army-through

A Town Hall with Senior Army Leaders: https://www.dvidshub.net/video/486130/ausa-2016-family-forum-3

Local AUSA Chapters in your community.  www.ausa.org

The future of AUSA:
Patty wants to hear from you!  What are your needs an concerns as a military family?  She is willing to pull together resources and experts to answer the big questions that you have.  How would you most like to receive answers to your questions?  Webinars? Podcasts?  Emails?

Our culture tends to struggle, isolated, in their homes not realizing there are answers and help right in front of them.   AUSA is one you definitely need to know about and get involved with!

 

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Who I Really Am

If you didn’t know, I love Wonder Woman.  As a child, I zipped up my leather boots, grabbed my nylon yellow rope my Dad had in the garage and lassoed trees in the yard.  Forcing them to tell me the truth about where to save the woman or man held by the enemy.  I had little reference for this superhero other than Linda Carter on TV.  Bullets bounced off her bracelets and she could jump to the top of a building so after every show, I’d run outside and see if I could do the same- except for the bullet thing- but I imagined it.

There has always been something inside of me that wanted the truth to win.  I saw no good in secrets and lies other than good secrets like birthday parties and surprises.  Evil used lies all the time and I just knew, way deep down inside, that there was something powerful about the truth- and I wanted to fight for it. In John 8:32, Jesus tells the Jews around him, “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

 I have lived my life, since I was very little running around in under-roo’s, seeking the freedom that truth brings.  So… I became a counselor, aiming to help others discover their need for truth as well.

In the past year, Matt decided that if I was going to be a real Wonder Woman fan, I needed to read her comics.  So we picked up the New 52 series one at a time.  I have to say that I have loved it.  I read it slowly, digesting it in pieces- what I assume a fan really does.  I wanted to share with you what I've learned…

  • Wonder Woman struggles with her identity.  She struggles with who she is and what she is here to do. She is always searching for her purpose and living that fully.
  • She struggles with what others expect her to be.  Trying to be all things to all people.  In this series, she is given the task of being the God of War.   Contrasting that is her strength is to love and protect all life.  It turns out, this new role practically eats her alive as she is tempted to be something she isn’t.  She has to dig deep to be who she truly is- someone who brings peace even when it still instigates war.
  • She sees the best in others.  She wants to believe that everyone is good and capable of love as well, and when they aren’t- she can’t comprehend it.  But every time, she can't help but see the good in them.
  • At some point, she can’t trust her own judgement and has to use her lasso.  Forged by the gods, it is her only tool for seeing things clearly.  Yet, this very same tool humbles her and strips her of her own power.
  • Her desire to love others comes out of her own need for love and acceptance.  It is her greatest weaknesses and is often used against her.  It haunts her, but she brings purpose out of it by loving others.

It turns out… I really AM Wonder Woman.  As silly as that may sound to you, it brings me full circle and a sense of completion way down deep in my core.  My Father, the God of the Heavens, created me with a purpose.  I love others, deeply.  I hate to see pain in their eyes.  I dig for truth, fight for justice, sacrifice sometimes too much of myself for the sake of others to have freedom from whatever binds them.  I know that the truth of scripture is the answer- bringing clarity to confusion, strength to those who need it, and light into the darkest places.  I also know that it brings me to my knees every time.  Revealing the painful truth of my weakness and insecurity.  It reveals that I am not as strong as I think I am.  I largely serve others out of my own issues, and that I can wear myself out in the temptation of thinking that I, too, am a god- when I am not and never have been.  But I AM in the family of the one TRUE God- and that makes me an heir- able to live in the freedom that Christ died for me to have.  If only I could believe that all the time... but my own issues get in the way, confusion sets in, the lies of the enemy taunt me and I forget for a moment that I have a lasso of truth, the Word, at my side- glowing, ready to be used, ready to shed light, ready to free us all.

This is not a spoiler, but this picture showed up towards the end and it is so perfect for where I am in life right now. 

WW400

I have given all I have in me lately… 

Out of my love for others...

Using every bit of my own strength...

Relying on the prayers that some of you have offered...

Trying my best to listen to His guidance...

Fulfilling the calling He has placed on my heart...

And I find myself in His arms ready to rest.

He has been fighting the worst of the battles for me, but I have been fighting the ones that he has allowed.  

Here is the truth-

He has given each of you a calling:

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

He has given you armor:

Therefore take up the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6:13

He has given you a lasso:

For though we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh. The weapons of our warfare are not the weapons of the world. Instead, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We tear down arguments, and every presumption set up against the knowledge of God; and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:3

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father's one and only Son. John 1:4

But He has also given you an identity:

'Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ Isaiah 41:10

Now Rest...

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Just the Beginning

It is hard to believe that I am writing to you a year after being awarded the 2015 AFI Military Spouse of the Year. I have been stretched in my character, faced fears, and dug deep into sources of strength that I didn’t know I had and somehow came out on the other side.  It has been just as much a season of opportunity as one of personal growth. The biggest challenge has been balancing my passion while also making sure to put my marriage and family first.  A struggle I know you understand.  

As I look back over the year at all I have learned, the word “intentional” stands out.  I have been insanely busy and have had moments where I had to intentionally stop some less-important task in order to put my focus on what was most important.  My trip overseas was perhaps the biggest perspective change of my year.  Not only did it change my view of our troops deployed, it changed my marriage.

Experiencing Afghanistan through my husband’s eyes unexpectedly forced me to look in the mirror.  Exercising empathy, resulted in seeing ways I could have loved him with more of a servant heart as well as the hidden resentment I had accumulated from years of constant change.  Rather than beat myself up, I vowed to move forward as a better person.  This trip was such a game changer, I wrote Sacred Spaces: My Journey to the Heart of Military Marriage, launching this August but available for PRE-order NOW

 
 

In Sacred Spaces, I open up about my marriage and our vulnerable struggle during and after deployments. During the trip, I reflect on how so many unshared experiences during deployments and trainings distance our relationships with our spouses.  What resulted was my transformation to now intentionally commit to passionately creating more shared experiences with my husband to counterbalance the frequent separations we as military families go through.

As I look forward to the upcoming year, will you join me?  Rather than living under the burden of the consequences war has had on our families, join me in becoming intentional.  Join me in making a commitment to date your spouse, create shared moments together, do more than just sit and watch TV.  I invite you to pre-order Sacred Spaces and read it with your spouse.  Begin conversations about where you are as a couple and the burdens you need to release to re-ignite a spark. Let’s be more intentional with the time we do have with our spouse.  Go for a hike, explore a new town, even if your kids need to tag along.  Perhaps it is time to start counseling.  The point is that you commit to being intentional.  Together, perhaps we can start a movement beginning in our own homes.  (If you think you might be interested in joining the Launch Team for Sacred Spaces, Click here)!

As I close out my year with you, I want to say thank you.  Thank you for meeting me here, listening to Lifegiver Military Spouse Podcast, and inviting me into your heart and homes.  There is plenty more to come!

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The Power of Being Seen

Matt and I have been blessed to provide close to 35 marriage retreats since joining the Army through the Strong Bonds Program.  It is possibly our favorite thing to do.  To see families drive somewhere away from their everyday life to reconnect brings us joy.  We love to teach together, model new skills, be vulnerable with our own story, and watch couples find that spark.  Our retreats are always working retreats.  Much like my counseling style, I love to see people work hard on themselves and their relationships.  I love to look across the room as couples look into each others’ eyes and find that spark again. 

NEW CKFF EMBROIDERY LOGO

This year, I was humbled to be asked to be an Ambassador for the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation.  I have always felt a pull towards the Foundation as we have similar missions and values about helping marriages succeed.  As my relationship with CKFF has grown, I have been blown away by their humility, integrity, and genuine love for the people they serve.  Even as our talks began with how we could work together to serve military and first responder families, the staff expressed their desire to make sure my own family succeeded.

In the past 8 years that Matt and I have served military families as a chaplain family and counselor, I don’t think we ever asked whether or not we might need to be served ourselves.  It is our calling.  Even as we sigh in exhaustion from leading an event, the satisfaction that another family was invested in, confirms our desire to do it again the next day.

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Two weeks ago, the CKFF offered Matt and I a chance to go on one of their Revitalization Retreats.  These retreats are given to military and first responder couples who are nominated as needing a chance to reconnect in their marriage.  Many of these couples struggle with PTSD, years of separations and stress, and little time to work on their marriage.  Some may be on the brink of falling apart.  CKFF grants these families that serve the opportunity to go away for a weekend and not work on anything heavy- simply to go and “be” with their spouse.  At first, I wondered if simply “being” with their spouse was enough to turn things around, but as I found out- it is just as powerful as the hard work Matt and I recommend during the retreats we lead.

I felt guilty for accepting the Retreat from CKFF.  I thought, there are so many more deserving couples in need of this opportunity.  The past year has been a flurry of opportunities for me that few would ever get to do.  Yet as the staff of CKFF reminded me, sometimes you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you can care for someone else.  Did Matt and I need a retreat?  You bet we did.  As we thought on it, every get-away but one in our 17 years was a working trip that we tried to turn into an opportunity to care for ourselves too.  Weddings Matt performed, marriage retreats we led for others, we would throw in a date night.  Even trainings for work we tried to claim as a vacation.  Never had we gone somewhere just to be with each other.  

The CKFF motto is “When one person serves, the whole family unit serves.”  This is so true.  We affectionately call ourselves #TeamWeathers and our boys have joined in the calling to serve other families.  Marriage retreats are opportunities for the boys to serve in childcare.  Our family has felt honored to be a military family and give back. 

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All of that, including moving twice in a year had taken a toll.  A retreat like this could not have come at a better time. This year has felt like I had been the one deployed and Matt often sacrificing to be the flexible and available one while still sustaining his own job.

The CKFF Revitalization Retreat came with a flight for Matt and I to Charleston, SC.  But what about our children?  We had just moved away from family and did not have connections to anyone who could care for them for an extended amount of time.  The answer? The CKFF flew my mom to our home as well as gave her spending money to make sure she had a great time with the kids.  Amazing, right?  We have always been able to offer childcare at retreats, but for someone to go to that measure to make sure our whole family was taken care of made all the difference for us to go with peace.

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The staff, calling themselves “our concierges” for the weekend made themselves available to us the entire weekend.  They asked us what kinds of activities they could plan for us.  If there was something we wanted to do, I'd just call and "Poof!" they made it happen.  There were many tours around Charleston we could have taken advantage of, but because our life has been so scheduled, we opted for lots of free time instead.  

At dinner on on our last night

At dinner on on our last night

Who doesn't love chocolate?

Who doesn't love chocolate?

Handmade cocktail in a 20's lounge

Handmade cocktail in a 20's lounge

Couple's Massage

Couple's Massage

They scheduled amazing dinners we would have never asked for ourselves.  Reservation made, gratuity already taken care of, and whatever we wanted on the menu at our fingertips.  A couple’s massage topped it all off.  Our hotel was flawless, with the freedom to order room service and not leave the room at all if we wanted.  For someone who keeps the budget, it was an amazing feeling to have breakfast brought to the room where we could watch the news without the children interrupting and drink coffee before it turned cold. As glamorous as it sounds, it was hard to receive- we had taken the place of serving others for so long, it was humbling to be given such a gift.

Butler Service?

Butler Service?

Breakfast is served...

Breakfast is served...

We went for walks where we talked about all kinds of things- our life, our shared memories, our vision for serving in the future, the forgiveness we had shared with each other over the years, and we also had moments where we said nothing at all.  Just holding hands, walking down the street on a Spring day.  The newness all around us, reminding us that seasons change and everyday is a day to start again.  

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It seems we did so much more than that, and yet we tried our best to do nothing at all.  Something so foreign to us that we actually had to work hard at it.  

If all of that wasn’t enough, we were greeted with flowers when we got home.  “We hope you had a wonderful retreat, Love the CKFF Team”.

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For just a moment, it felt like royalty. Not that we felt entitled to it, but that we felt worthy of the kindness and service from someone else.   All I can say, is that I have never felt more loved or valued by an organization that by CKFF and their staff.  First, that they would even extend a retreat to us.  We would never ask for it, but in the midst of our calling, they cared about our marriage thriving. 

To be honest, I needed someone to care about that.  In order for me to keep caring for all of you.  

We didn’t feel just noticed or acknowledged.  We felt seen.  Truly seen for the sacrifice that we (and so many others) give every day.  With tears in both of our eyes, we kept looking at each other in disbelief.  People really care that much?  It opened our eyes to truly see how powerful it is to just “be” with your spouse.  Marriage is hard work, and should be.  But my marriage already has to work hard.  We needed the reminder that we must also make time to play or say nothing at all.  That spark that was there in the beginning is just right under the surface.  You may just have to simply step out of the stress of everyday life to see it again.

Thank you to the Chris Kyle frog Foundation and all those who have donated to make this and other retreats possible.  You are changing lives, which change families, who then go out and save lives.  

To donate to the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation and make this posssible for more military and first responder families, click here.

 

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The Big Reveal: A Military Spouse Journey

Sacred Spaces and “Not Understanding”

It was the day before the packers were coming.  I had spent every day for the last two weeks cleaning out drawers and rooms while the kids and my husband were out of the house.  To say I was tired was an understatement.  “I think we need to sit and talk”, my husband said.  The kids were acting out and that was tempting me to act out.  I was frustrated that everyone was not giving me their last bits of energy to complete my pre-move checklist.  I was a week away from a trip that would take me across the world to experience deployment from a military spouse perspective.  Christmas was three weeks away. Did I mention we were moving?  Agreeing to go on this trip would mean that my husband would have to receive our household goods and handle the kids’ first week of transition on his own.  I had been wearing myself out in an unconscious attempt at relieving my guilt for leaving.

“This is all part of the process.” Matt said, “I know you feel bad for leaving, but I will be fine.” 

 I was shocked.  I didn’t think I was doing it out of guilt, or at least I wasn’t ready to admit it. 

“These last minute tasks that you are stressing about are not worth it.  You are leaving in a week, Corie. Think about it.  You may know that you are going to be safe, but the only thing the kids know is that you are going to Afghanistan.  We need to cut them a break. The priority doesn’t need to be the house at this moment.”

Great.  Now there was no denying the guilt I felt for leaving- leaving in general, leaving during a move, leaving before Christmas.

He continued with a loving smirk, “If you are going to experience what it is like for a soldier, then take note.  This is all part of the process.”  

I paused.  He was right.  I sometimes hate when he is right.  Up until this point, I had been more excited at the opportunity given me and working out the logistics of how to plan for a trip like this on such short notice.  I hadn’t thought to pay attention to my own feelings of pre-departure.  

So many times I have thought about how dual military couples understand each other.  There are few experiences in the job that they don’t understand.  They understand the paperwork that has to be filled out for leave and the procedures in the field.  Military spouses rarely have a glimpse into the world of a service member.  We might see office life while they are home, ruck marches on post, and even listen to gun fire at the firing ranges from our backyard.  Yet, somewhere along the way, I had resolved that I would just not understand a lot of my husband’s career, and maybe I was okay with that.

Sure, it had caused problems during reintegration.  I had my moments during the deployment that took every bit of courage, grit, and independence to get through and there was no way he could have understood that.  He had zipped his friends up in body bags and there was definitely no way I could understand that.  After many arguments that were more about wanting to be heard, we had resolved to just respect those places as sacred spaces.  There was no way one experience could compete with the other and we resolved to not fully understand those life changing moments our other half went through. So we would live in respect to them.  

When I think about whether or not accepting “not understanding” negatively affected our marriage, at first I say no.  Sacred spaces provided terminology for significant moments in our lives.  Allowing each other to have sacred spaces provided neutral territory to say “I’ve been through something so big that I’m different because of it. I can’t change that.  But I need you to tread lightly when I talk about it.  You can’t fix it and we definitely can’t ignore it.”  I had learned to ask questions when he zoned out.  If he opened up, I would try to be protective around the rest of his day.  

So in some ways, these “unshared experiences” had matured us and brought us closer. I was more confident because of my sacred spaces, knowing I could do “anything” on my own if I had to.  He embraced the fullness of life.  I thought we were better people because of this military lifestyle.  Better because we chose to implement a phrase my counseling professor once taught me, “everything is

 grist for the mill.”  Grist was corn that was often taken to a mill to be ground into flour, meaning every part of it was usable for profit.  In our life, it meant that no matter what we went through individually or together, we would choose to eventually bring good out of it.  But now, I was beginning to wonder, what could be the harm to having so many sacred spaces?

A few months back, Kate the Editor and Chief of Military Spouse Magazine was blowing up my phone while I was in the school carpool line.  “Call me right now!  You aren’t going to believe this!” she texted.  The anticipation was killing me.  The almost daily adrenaline spikes of change and opportunities since being awarded the 2015 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year were less shocking now, but my adrenal gland was definitely waning to keep up. The Secretary of Defense office had called asking for a military spouse to accompany the Secretary overseas for his Holiday Tour to visit troops.  Kate told them I was perfect for the job as MSOY and a clinician who fights for military marriages. The DoD recognized that they had never taken a military spouse overseas to see what it is like for troops.  I would get to fly in Secretary Ash Carters plane and be a correspondent for the magazine.  Kate being a military spouse too, freaked out with me over the brevity of the opportunity.  Secretary Carter?!?!  This is like… the main guy!  The main guy over all the branches of the military… who reports to the President!  And the plane… if the President gets in this same plane that they are inviting me on, it is AirForce One.  I admit I had a lot of Googling to do.

As my kids got in the car, they over heard my gasps of shock.  

“What!? Did something bad happen?” they asked.  Coming quickly back to reality, I hung up with Kate and had to tell them the truth,  “You can’t tell anyone right now though, okay boys?  In order to keep things very safe, no one- not even your friends or teachers can know yet.”    I thought about what a heavy burden that must have been to give them.  

“That makes me want to cry” my eleven year old, Aidan said.  

“Oh honey, they wouldn’t take Mommy anywhere that would be unsafe.”

“No,” he interrupted, “The idea of you visiting those troops around Christmas and telling them “Thank you”.  That is such a great opportunity it makes me want to cry.” 

In that moment, my eleven year old put perspective on my mission and cast vision for me.  All my fear that this lifestyle was ruining my children was for a moment replaced with pride that they were “getting it”.

Two days later, I joined a call with the Secretary’s office and the magazine to cast strategy on the trip.  My goal, thanks to my son and my passion for marriages, was to make my experiences overseas meaningful to the 1.1 million military spouses who were not able to go.  I know service members do their best describing everything from the gym to the DFAC, but perhaps I could aim to say it in a way that filled in the gaps.  I told the Secretary’s office the number of times I had pictured something my husband had described only to realize how off I was when he shared the same story at a dinner party with friends.  Extra details would come out, I explained, and I would suddenly discover that the images I created were simply that.  

As a reference to how meaningful this experience could be to families, I told about the time our brigade chaplain took the FRG leaders and me to the field for the day during our first duty station.  We got to walk into the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) and see the computer monitors, drink bad coffee, stand by heaters, and eat MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) in the makeshift DFAC (Dining Facility).  I had never eaten an MRE in the field before and was encouraged to learn how to warm meals were possible.  We watched as the soldiers performed their dress rehearsal for deployment by playing what looked like laser tag in the field.  When a soldier went down, the medics came over and did their job from beginning to end.  That day was huge for me, I told the Secretary’s office.  That brigade chaplain provided a picture that would stay with me during the deployment.  It reduced my anxiety on so many things that you would think don’t matter.  But when my husband said he would be spending the day in the TOC, I knew he was safe, warm, and informed.

A grueling week later, we finally heard the trip was a go, pending some world event that could interrupt it.  I spent a majority of my time calming my anxiety by running and taking supplements to communicate to my adrenal gland that I still wished to be friends.  My strategy was to make the trip as multi sensory as possible.  I noted how misunderstanding increases the fewer of the five senses are being used during communication especially in marriage.  If I could write about what I saw, felt, smelled, and touched each day perhaps I could bring comfort to others.  Each night, I would record a raw video journal of my reflections of the day and post it to my Youtube Channel and my Lifegiver Military Spouse Podcast.  The Secretary’s office loved it.

As I looked into my husband’s eyes, this evening before the chaos of relocating, my emotions flooded me.  I had been in survival mode for a long time, even before news of this trip.  I had been checking things off my to do list and getting through each day.  We had bought me boots, a jacket, and even pants from the Army surplus store that would be suitable for visiting Iraq and Afghanistan.  I had stressed through outfits, visas, and passports but I hadn’t thought about what this really meant for the #TeamWeathers (as we called ourselves).  Another parent was leaving for the Middle East and while my little ole’ week long trip couldn’t begin to compare to a deployment, you couldn’t tell my children that.

I took my husband’s advice and allowed myself to sit in the pocket of my thoughts and feelings.  I felt guilty that I was leaving him to receive our household goods alone.  The fact that my Dad had agreed to come physically replace me didn’t take away the feeling that I was abandoning my husband during a stressful time.  I knew he would work himself to the bone trying to get rid of all the boxes by the time I would get home and I hated that I couldn’t stop him.  I am normally looking out for changes in my kids behavior as they go through transition and I would miss the initial feelings of excitement and sadness as they entered in another new home.  I would miss them visiting their first day at school and shyly saying hello to new teachers. 

And yet, I felt the excitement of leaving on a new adventure.  I was supposed to be on this trip, I had a complete peace about it.  I am gifted at taking these kinds of experiences and using learned lessons to make a difference in marriages.  I wanted to go.  I wanted to stay.  I wanted to run from the opportunity and choose family, just to prove it to them.  I wanted to get on the plane because I was called to do it and set that example for my children.  

I abandoned my checklist for the evening.  “Let’s go get Chinese” I said to Matt.  “You are right.  We all need to hit a reset button.”

To Follow "A Military Spouse Journey": 

Twitter: @CorieLPC

Facebook: Corie Weathers, LPC #MSOY15

Youtube: Corie Weathers, LPC Channel

Audio: Lifegiver Military Spouse Podcast

 

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Have You Registered for the FREE MilSpouse Summit?

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Never before has our community of spouses been more exhausted and in need of self-care.  Our senior wives are struggling with increased isolation and weariness and entering a well deserved season of rest and family focus.  Our “mid-senior” wives still have young children, but are weary from ongoing deployments and service members with longer work hours than ever.  Our youngest generation grew up with the digital age of connection, but feels alone as the military spouse social community is dwindling.

What every generation needs is connection and self-care.  We are longing to find safe places to talk, feel, and grow.  The best part of being a military spouse is experiencing a group that understands what we have been through.  If our community is going to keep the reputation for support and connection we will have to be creative with marrying the previous generation of tradition with the new age of technology.  

I am so excited about the first-ever Military Spouse Wellness Summit: Invest in Yourself 2015 beginning Monday, October 19 - 24.  This is such a new and creative idea that will no doubt encourage you, make you feel connected, and provide an entire week for you to invest in yourself so you can be the best wife, mother, military spouse…. the best you.  It is FREE to register (plus EVERY participant receives a 1-year membership to Thrive Market) and you get a chance to win tons of PRIZES by MetLife Dental, MSB New Media, SpouseBox, Elva Publishing, QALO rings, Lucy Activewear, and many more. 

msws speakers light badgeThey have put together a group of ten health, nutrition, fitness, and financial experts who are all eager to help you thrive as a military spouse. I am so excited to join the amazing group they pulled together as I will speak on investing into your relationship and marriage.  You will get an email each day with access to the interviews that you can listen from wherever you are.  Join us all online has we have dialogue over social media and encourage you and answer questions!  There is really NO REASON to not attend- it could not get more convenient than this!

It’s time to take care of you.  And this is easy time whenever you can find it.  Let’s bring back our need for each other and learn from one another!  You never know what you will learn that you can use to invest in someone else later.  Register today, by going here: http://in-dependent.org/wellness-summit/1084

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